Friday, March 22, 2019

Hyatt Place Greensboro Downtown

Step aside, Proximity. Move it or lose it, O'Henry. There's a new hotel in town and it's offering a hip, new vibe and some incredible food. Developer Roy Carroll's new Hyatt Place Downtown Greensboro just opened this month, and coupled with the Carroll at Bellemeade, it's probably the most talked about addition to downtown Greensboro in recent years. I wasn't aware of the ample food offerings at the Hyatt - this is way more than just your grab-and-go packaged snacks. I was pleasantly surprised by everything I sampled, enough that I would return here for lunch or dinner anytime. And be sure to check out their exciting cocktail list at happy hour. I know you'll be impressed too.

The Strawberry Mule features Blood Orange Vodka, Campari, Ginger Beer, Lime Juice, Honey and Muddled Strawberries. It is too easy to drink. It's a beautiful light pink hue that's perfect for spring. I've been on a Whiskey Sour kick lately, and the Hyatt's unique rendition might be my new favorite in town. Maker's Mark, Disaronno, Lime Juice, Pineapple Juice and Bitters make for a really tasty flavor combination. I never would have thought to add Disaronno and Pineapple, but now I don't think I can have it any other way! They've also got Mezcal Margs, an Old Fashioned with Chocolate Bitters, and an ample wine and beer selection. Seriously, come for the cocktails, but stay for the food.
Happy hour at the Hyatt!
After you've munched on some addictively salty Citrus-Chile Popcorn, you might want to indulge in another appetizer like the Parmesan-Paprika Fries. The fries are crispy and topped with Parm and Paprika (obviously) but you won't be able to resist the Basil Aioli and the slightly hot Boom Boom Sauce. Or maybe you're in the mood for the best Fried Okra you've ever had? Cut into bite size pieces and cornmeal-dusted, the okra is served with garlicky Spinach, Bacon Jam and a Tomato Aioli that is absolutely to die for. I could not stop eating this. Just trust me on this one. The Crispy Brussels Sprouts are also a must-order. They're perfectly charred and topped with Bacon and a whole-grain Honey Mustard sauce. These are the sexiest Brussels in town.

The Flatbread is extremely satisfying - it's more like a personal pizza. The base is an extremely flavorful, basil-forward Pesto, and it's topped with Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, oven-roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, Mozzarella and Parmesan, and drizzled with Honey. The sweet honey finish goes so well with that salty meat, and it just oozes with cheese. We loved the Chicken and Waffles. The Fried Chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, but the Chile-Spiced Honey made it a showstopper.

I can't resist a good Cuban Sandwich - smoky Pulled Pork, Ham, Pickles, Swiss Cheese and Creole Mustard on French Bread? What's not to love?! My only request would be to change the Bread & Butter Pickles to Dill - just a personal preference. The BBQ Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese was a hit, though we all remarked that the mac and cheese was likely not homemade. This surprised us all, since everything else tasted so fresh, from scratch, and cooked to order. The Chicken and Brie Club layers tender Grilled Chicken with Brie Cheese, Kale, Tomato and Bacon, and it's topped with Honey Mustard. Any club that's warm and features Brie gets an A+ in my book.

I apologize for the lack of photos, so you could have really seen for yourself how delicious everything looked. While we may have made a dent in the menu, there were still so many other tempting choices. Maybe next time I'll try the Avocado Toast and Charcuterie Board. Or perhaps I'll indulge in the Baked Brie and Kale Chicken Caesar. The Hyatt Place Downtown really has it all, and it is all so good. Make it a point to stop by and see for yourself.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Crook's Corner

When I was a student in Chapel Hill, my go-to spots were East End/Deep End (RIP), Lucy's (under new management) and Elmo's (still rockin'). My friends and I didn't make it to many high-end restaurants, partly because of our budgets, but mostly because our world didn't exist past the Eastern block of Franklin Street. As I got older, I realized the number of outstanding restaurants in Chapel Hill, namely a famous one by the name of Crook's Corner. According to their website, Chef Bill Smith is "the only James Beard Foundation 'America's Classic Restaurant' chef ever to have been named a final-five finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast - and twice." Don't be put off by the casual atmosphere and diner vibe - you'll likely pay $30 for a top-tiered restaurant entree. The bar is cozy but ample, and it's a very inviting spot. I'm kicking myself for not going here more when I was a Chapel Hillian!

Their cocktail list features the classics done right. You might order a French 75 (a personal fave), a Sazerac, or how about a modern twist on a Mint Julep: a scoop of Mint Sorbet with Wild Turkey poured on top. I couldn't get enough of this. It was perfectly boozy, perfectly sweet, and it also appears on their dessert menu. I was very torn between this concoction and a Red Hot-Orange Sorbet topped with Reposado and Bubbles. Next time.
Mint Julep Sorbet
We were offered crusty bread with butter (always a plus) and while the menu changes often, there are some staples. The Carolina Sampler features Barbecue from Picnic in Durham, which was fun to try. The 'cue had great smoke flavor and the Eastern style vinegar sauce that accompanied it was killer. There truly is no better barbecue sauce. My only note for improvement is that this 'cue was pulled, and I prefer chopped. The sampler also comes with tender Collard Greens that had no offensive, earthy flavor - they were awesome. If you don't think you like collards, try these, as they are cooked with bacon and topped with parmesan cheese. The rendition of Hoppin' John featured Black Eyed Peas on a bed of Rice, topped with Tomatoes, Scallions and Cheddar Cheese. It was tasty, but totally upstaged by the other items on the sampler. This all comes with a fat stack of Black Pepper Cornbread - not too peppery and with a hint of sweetness. It was a lovely counter to all the savory notes on the plates.
Carolina Sampler
I loved Crook's rendition of Flounder. It was thicker than you'd expect, and lightly fried, atop a sweet Onion Puree and Farro. This was an awesomely constructed dish. You get the nuttiness and chew from the farro, the crispy, salty crust on the fish, and the sweet sting of the onion puree. Everything might have been the same color, but it tasted amazing together.
Flounder with sweet onion puree and farro
Crook's is famous for their desserts, namely what's listed on the menu as "Good Banana Pudding". Let me break it down for you. I was never a banana pudding person until I had the warm banana pudding from Mr. BBQ in Winston-Salem. I'm here to tell you that warm banana pudding will change your life - homemade vanilla custard beats boxed vanilla pudding, and torched meringue beats cool whip any day. I thought it was interesting that Crook's Banana Pudding featured the elements of warm banana pudding - the homemade vanilla custard and meringue - but theirs is served cold. It was divine and still beats traditional cold banana pudding, but I was very tempted to ask them to microwave it, because that would really be the ultimate.
"Good Banana Pudding"
Crook's is also known for their Atlantic Beach Lemon-Lime Pie with Saltine Cracker Crust, an Eastern NC classic that I had never tried until a few days ago. The crust had a perfect salty note (obviously) and the custard was nice and tangy. If you love Key Lime Pie, you will love this.
Atlantic Beach Lemon-Lime Pie with Saltine Crust
I was really grateful for the opportunity to try so many classic dishes at a famed restaurant in one of my favorite places on Earth. I can't wait to go back and try the Red Hot cocktail and just about every other item on the menu.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

1618: Pahlmeyer Wine Dinner

1618 Seafood Grill is one of my favorite restaurants in Greensboro. They recently hosted a wine dinner featuring Pahlmeyer wines from Napa Valley in California. I was unfamiliar with this winery, but let's be honest, I'm pretty obsessed with wines from Napa, and the food at 1618 is always exceptional. I was expecting a delicious and unforgettable evening, and they delivered. 

Perfectly fried oyster
1618 does one of the best renditions of fried oysters in the entire Triad, and the first course featured a perfectly crispy and salty Fried Oyster with a Goat Lady Goat Cheese Fondue and Fresh Herb Salsa. It might have been my favorite dish of the night, and I would have eaten ten of these. The richness of the goat cheese fondue, the savoriness of the oyster and the acidity of the salsa made for a perfectly balanced and composed bite. This was paired with a 2017 Jayson Sauvignon Blanc, which was thankfully not too grapefruit-forward, a complaint I usually have with Sauv Blancs. We were off to a great start.

Duo of crab cake and short rib
One of the many things I love about 1618 is their over-the-top creativity with each dish, and I think our second course perfectly encapsulated that: duo of Crab Cake and Barbecued Beef Short Rib with Mango, Pancetta, Cilantro and Mascarpone. That sentence contains so many of my favorite words and ingredients! The crab cake had no filler - it was straight crab, which is how they all should be - and the short rib was super tender. The mango and cilantro brightened up the dish, and pancetta makes everything better. This course was paired with a duo (get it?) of a buttery 2016 Wayfarer Estate Chardonnay and a smooth 2014 Wayfarer Estate Pinot Noir. They each enhanced the dish in their own lovely way.

Duck breast with sweet potato pan sauce
We were offered beautiful Asian flavors in the third course: Hoisin and Plum-Glazed Duck Breast with Baby Corn, Broccolini, Crispy Duck Egg and Sweet Potato Pan Sauce. This dish was all about that crazy delicious sweet potato pan sauce! The duck was tender and the vegetables were crisp, and it was a stunning visual to pop the duck egg yolk and watch it drip down the meat and mix with the pan sauce. This dish was paired with a 2016 Jayson Red Blend and a 2015 Pahlmeyer Merlot. It was really fun to compare these wines with the dish - the blander of the two wines really opened up with the dish, while the spicier, more robust wine was overwhelmed with the flavors of the dish. Dueling wine tastings are so much fun!

Wagyu beef with foie gras and bordelaise

If you're wondering how it's possible to eat this much in one sitting, know that the servings were appropriately sized and the courses were well-paced. Thank goodness, because we had one more large course to go: Wagyu Beef and Foie Gras paired with a Portabella Mushroom stuffed with Wagyu Tartare and Blackberry Compote, and finished with a Bordelaise Sauce. Again, so many of my favorite words. This is the ideal steakhouse dish, and once again, it was all about the sauce. Love or hate foie gras, if it's going to have a place, it's atop perfectly seared Wagyu beef. I did appreciate the sweet acidity of the blackberry compote to brighten the dish. We had one final wine comparison, and these were the best (and most expensive, not surprisingly!) of the bunch. Both the 2014 and 2015 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Reds were fabulous with this dish. Proprietary wines are Cabernet-heavy blends. No wonder I loved them. 
All the wine!!!
We finished the meal with a decadent Chocolate Torte. Readers, you may recall that I don't love chocolate (I know, I know) but this surprisingly wasn't too dark or rich, and it was actually a nice end to the meal. I Ubered home and began planning my next trip to Napa. Or at least 1618.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Preview of Butcher & Bull: Part 1

Award-winning chef Richard Miller has made quite a name for himself in the Triad culinary scene. Previously at the helm of Graze Restaurant, he will now serve as Executive Chef of Butcher & Bull, a new take on the traditional American steakhouse. While the restaurant space is currently attached to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Winston-Salem, Butcher & Bull will be renovated to become a standalone restaurant. It will open this spring, and with Chef Miller attached, it will undoubtedly be a success.

Chef Miller, a Winston-Salem native, is one of the most innovative and exciting culinary voices in our state - he beat out 15 other chefs to win the Winston-Salem finals of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series! Not only will Butcher & Bull feature his adventurous culinary perspective, it will feature locally-sourced ingredients from Triad farmers and artisans including Harmony Ridge Farms, Joyce Farms and Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork, to name a few. For all you beef lovers out there, the restaurant will offer premier cuts, including one I'm particularly intrigued by - the 40 ounce tomahawk steak! Entrees like Lobster and Grits and Wagyu Burgers will also be offered. I imagine the wine list and craft cocktail selection will be killer.

If you want to follow along with the progress, check out Butcher & Bull on Facebook and Instagram.

I promise to give you another sneak peek once they're close to opening, but for now, take a look at these photos that have been taken throughout the menu planning process. They're sure to whet your appetite.